Saturday, December 27, 2014

So Long, Dad

His family, my family, has been in this country since before it was a country. The Clements are older than the Declaration of Independence; older than the mass migration of the 18th century. We are as old as the soil that fills the land from the Appalachian Plateau to the Till Plains.

My father was born in the middle of central Ohio farmland, a life so simple and rural that in the summer he rarely wore shoes, where he worked a variety of jobs aiding his family as a dutiful eldest child of his generation would, even helping to raise his sister and brother. He was a spectacular student, the first Clements to go to college, as equally adept at mathematics, his favorite subject, as he was in grammar and usage. [He was the proofreader for my dissertation in theology.]

He served as a sergeant in the US Army during the Korean War, then as a high school and college teacher.  He showed me how to frame a house and replace a roof.  He took us with him those summers when he worked on his graduate degree and, in 1966 when he won a Jennings Scholarship, withdrew me from school so that I could accompany him to Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York.  When he consulted with NASA, he took me with him to see a computer that was large enough to fill a room.

My grandfather, a carpenter, once told me how proud he was that his son was addressed at work as "Mr. Clements".

He showed remarkable patience with his son, even during the obstreperous years. When the son told him he wanted to be a teacher, he smiled. When the son told him he wanted to be a priest, he smiled some more.

He prayed with more sincerity than anyone I have ever known. I think he read a book a day and, when he wasn't doing that, would work out complicated mathematical puzzles. I have served four schools, a college, and a university, and I can objectively state that he is the best math teacher that I've ever seen.

His favorite hymn was #412, I think mainly because of this verse:

Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band, loud cheering people,
sing to the Lord a new song!

While I didn't inherit his facility with equations, I did receive his sense of humor. In times easy and hard, that's made all of the difference.